With the clocks about to go back this weekend, autumnal hues cloak the body and seep into the skin. The piercing light of summer is almost emptied out. Weak threads of sunlight dissolve amongst russet, ochre and blanket skies of grey.
Here then, some small cups of blue:
……………upon the sky
in a breath
The potter makes the earthen pitcher out of earth selected and prepared specifically for it. The potter … shapes the clay. No – he shapes the emptiness.
When posting the above image on twitter, I received, by return, a digital echo from Andrew Male, (@AndrewMaleMojo). A fragile image, of the same unknown plant, etched in glaze and fire; ‘cupped’ and bleeding into blue.
The bowl was made by the potter Beresford Pealing who ran a studio-pottery at Harnham Mill, West Harnham, Salisbury, Wiltshire from 1966-1972. Pealing created hand-thrown domestic stoneware оf а type pioneered by Bernard Leach working іn аn Arts & Crafts tradition.
The image of Pealing’s bowl resonated with the image of that flower cupping light, sky and time and somehow reminded me of Martin Heidegger’s late thought, particularly his Bremen Lecture of 1949, Insight into That Which Is:
When we fill the pitcher, the liquid flows into the empty pitcher … The thingness of the container in no way rests in the material that it is made of, but in the emptiness that [it?] contains.
I’m not sure if Heidegger ever acknowledged it, but it seems too much of a coincidence if this passage was not influenced by the arguably more poetic rendering in the Tao Te Ching:
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
(Tao Te Ching: Chapter 11, translated by Stephen Mitchell, 1988)
or in an alternative translation:
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.
(Tao Te Ching: Chapter 11, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1998)
A random moment this week threaded together that plant inked against the sky and Beresford Pealing’s bowl. Opening the front door, an empty form cupping the autumn light:
Overnight, a dweller on the threshold had constructed possibly the perfect form of useful emptiness. A filigree construction allowing the world to pass through and bring whatever bounty may stick on the way…
And of the unknown plant?
When the photograph was taken, I had no idea what it was, although A, who is the gardener, told me that it would soon ‘explode’. She didn’t know the name either.
Fraser MacDonald @JAFMacDonald kindly identified it as Agapanthus and sent a link to this stunning time-lapse film. Enjoy the white stars exploding in all their glory. All within fifteen seconds:
But there is one final act of synchronicity. Re-watching the film clip today and revisiting Heidegger’s lecture, I come across his thinking on the emerging technologies of 1949 (for example film) and specifically, their ability to collapse time and space. An example that he gives is:
the sprouting and flourishing of plants which remained hidden throughout the seasons is now openly displayed on film within a minute…
We can only imagine what his response may have been to the webs spun by modern technologies. Lots of un-useful emptiness? Perhaps we can learn from the spider. Spin the web, shape the emptiness and see what sticks.
Many thanks go to Andrew Male and Fraser MacDonald for their invaluable contributions to this post.
Now playing: Brian Lavelle – Empty Transmissions.
Martin Heidegger, Insight into That Which Is, Bremen Lecture, 1949 (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2012)
Lao Tzu. The Tao Te Ching, various translations.
One reply on “Plants, potters, webs: On forms, usefulness and emptiness”
Really enjoyed this exploration, thank you. I suspect ‘seeing what sticks’ is the only way we can make sense of modern webs.